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by John Guzlowski

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the near northwest side of Chicago, an area sometimes called Humboldt Park and sometimes called the Polish Triangle. A lot of my neighbors were Holocaust survivors, World War II refugees, and Displaced Persons. There were hardware-store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead comrades, and women who had walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russian Gulag. They were our moms and dads. Some of us kids had been born here in the States, but most of us had come over to America in the late 40s and early 50s on US troop ships. 

As kids, we knew a lot about fear. We heard about it from our parents. They had seen their mothers and fathers shot, their brothers and sisters put on trains and sent to concentration camps, their childhood friends left behind crying on the side of a road. Most of our parents didn’t tell us about this fear directly. How could they?

But we felt their fear anyway.

We overheard their stories late at night when they thought we were watching TV in another room or sleeping in bed, and that’s when they’d gather around the kitchen table and start remembering the past and all the things that made them fearful. My mom would tell about what happened to her mom and her sister and her sister’s baby when the Germans came to her house in the woods, the rapes and murders.

You could hear the fear in my mom’s voice. She feared everything, the sky in the morning, a drink of water, a sparrow singing in a dream, me whistling some stupid Mickey Mouse Club tune I picked up on TV. Sometimes when I was a kid, if I started to whistle, she would ask me to stop because she was afraid that that kind of simple act of joy would bring the devil into the house. Really. 

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Hallmark Moment

by Joseph O’Day

Another Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting with my ninety three year old mother in her parlor watching TV. She’s in a cushioned chair in one corner; I’m to her left on the couch. At the end of the room facing Mom is her wide-screen Toshiba HD television propped atop a Quasar console. She had me buy the Toshiba a few years ago when the Quasar wore out.

We’ve managed to keep my mother at home by hiring caretakers who alternate shifts with my sister, my wife, and me. I learned quickly that this job of caretaking requires lots of sitting and watching: Mom watches TV and me, I watch TV and Mom. I’ve tried to make the time productive by cleaning and tidying up, doing bills, or attempting to read or write, but I get sidelined by the loudness of the TV and by her repeated requests to rise and walk around. Even with a walker, she’s unsteady and at risk for falling, so I’ll assuage her concerns, for example telling her the milk definitely was returned to the refrigerator and promising to check again to make sure. I’ve figured out tricks to get me out of her sight, out of her mind, like staying in another room, but near enough to respond. However, I’d rather she knows she’s not alone, so I’m back on the couch.

There’s an obstacle to my being productive, though, that’s more disruptive than my mother’s demands to get up three times in an hour. It’s not the temptation of the peanut butter crackers on the kitchen counter or Snickers ice cream bars in the fridge, or even my wish to lie back on the soft couch for a nap. Rather, it’s a TV station, the Hallmark Channel, and its afternoon movie romances, with titles like Puppy Love or The Wish List or Recipe For Love, and story lines like “A perfectionist makes a list of qualities she’s looking for in a mate, finds an ideal guy, but is instead drawn to a kooky barista who encourages her to loosen up.” Predictable, sentimental, addictive as hell. 

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Daddy Was a Thief

by Perry Glasser

We are not talking about armed robbery or breaking and entering. Not even pickpocketing. Daddy was no crook. You’d risk a punch in the snoot for even suggesting such an idea. Honest, square-dealing, he was no cheat, either, not even at gin-rummy, the card game he played at low stakes with cronies or his children for the sheer fun of the banter.

“What’s the name of this game?”


“That’s what I’ve got,” he’d say and lay down his cards, laughing.

My father, Dave, considered smash-and-grab guys to be lowlifes; he thought of himself as law-abiding. Unless you count his years as an old man, unsteady on his feet from several toe amputations when he might sneak a mini-Mary Jane or cherry-flavored hard candy from the acrylic bulk sale candy bins at the food market, he never so much as shoplifted.

My mother would scold him, but he’d dismiss her nagging. “They expect a certain amount of the stuff to disappear. Like grapes.”

“That’s not the point,” Muriel would say with exasperation, pushing their cart into the next aisle while Dave inspected the caramels.

His behavior was partly denial, but it was more defiance. A diabetic whose wearying last years were little more than dragging his failing body from one physician to the next, Dad preferred to believe that purloined candy had no effect on his blood sugar. His logic was persuasive; if no one saw him eat, how could the candy be counted against him? The podiatrist, the endocrinologist, the internist, the ophthalmologist, and the vascular surgeon—what they did not know could not harm Dave. 

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